I have transcribed the excerpts from Vincent van Gogh’s letters to Theo referring to his Artist Friend, the Danish Artist, Christian Mourier-Petersen whose acquaintance he had made in Arles, between March and May 1888. After the latter’s departure to Paris, Vincent would know about him through Theo, particularly when Mourier-Petersen stayed at Theo van Gogh’s apartment in Montmartre from August 1888.
I will start with the only surving letter from Mourier-Petersen to Vincent van Gogh, written from Denmark. At that time, mid January 1889, Vincent was still living in Arles, and was trying to come over his nervous breakdown after the incident with Paul Gauguin which had taken place on December 23, 1888.
Letter from Christian Vilhelm Mourier-Petersen to Vincent van Gogh. Holbaekgaard, Denmark. January 25, 1889
“Holbaekgaard pr1 Ørsted.Jutland. Denmark. 25 Jan. 1889.
My dear Van Gogh!
I received your kind letter in Holland and, now that my journey is over, I thank you very much for your friendship and for having thought of me.The stay in your brother’s place has done me good, and I would be very happy if I’ve been able to contribute to lessening that emptiness around him that one so easily experiences in Paris. (Around 22 May 1888 Mourier-Petersen left Arles for Paris, where he stayed from around 6 June to about 15 August with Theo in rue Lepic. He had spent the months of November and December in the Netherland). In your country I made two copies after Rembrandt: ‘the Suzanne’ in The Hague and later ‘the Jewish wedding’ in Amsterdam.
It’s the first time I’ve made copies, and I won’t do so again. It doesn’t say anything to me, if it wasn’t to have a memory of these magnificent masterpieces. There are some talented painters among your compatriots, and the works of Mauve, Israëls and Breitner interested me very much, only it seems to me that they don’t make sufficient effort to see with their own eyes. As for the Scandinavian painters, I found them the same as before my departure.
Among the young ones there are many who want to produce something original and who are close to the Impressionists, but they’ve elected a reactionary and stupid jury which brings all progress to a halt.I think that an Impressionist exhibition would do some good in Copenhagen by ridding us of certain conventions. We’ve already seen Claude Monet and Bernard – may others come! (The exhibition Franske Kunstvaerker was held in Copenhagen from 18 May to 16 October 1888. There was a separate room with paintings by Manet, Monet, Angrand and Sisley, supplied by Theo van Gogh. For many Danish artists this was their first introduction to Impressionism.).
At the moment the consignment for the Paris exhibition is being prepared – it’s said to be very good. (The World Exhibition was held in Paris from 5 May to 5 November 1889. In the Palais du Champ de Mars, the Danish were represented by 190 paintings.).
I would be happy to know if you are still staying in Arles, if everything is going well down there etc., but you’ve probably had enough of it, and this letter will find you in Paris.
As for me, I must stay here this summer at least. If it’s possible next winter I’ll go to Paris, and I hope to see you again then.
How is your brother’s health? Please say hello to him from me. I hope to send him something soon. [On 25 February 1890, Mourier-Petersen thanked Theo for his hospitality by sending him the painting Tulip field, c. 1890 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum)].
Adieu – good health and good luck.
I shake your hand.
Letter from Vincent to Theo. Arles. March 10, 1888
“…I’ve made the acquaintance of a Danish artist (Christian Mourier-Petersen; 1858-1945) who talks about Heyerdahl and other people from the north, Krøyer. What he does is dry but very conscientious, and he’s still young. Saw the exhibition of the Impressionists in rue Laffitte, at the time. He’ll probably come to Paris for the Salon, and wants to tour Holland to see the museums. (Mourier-Petersen went to Paris around 22 May. The Salon in 1888 ran from 1 May to mid-July. He stayed in Paris for almost three months, and then spent November and December 1888 in the Netherlands.).”
Letter from Vincent to Theo. Arles. March 16, 1888
“…I have company in the evening, because the young Danish painter who’s here is very nice; his work is dry, correct and timid, but I’m not averse to that when the person is young and intelligent. At one time he’d begun to study medicine, he knows the works of Zola, De Goncourt and Guy de Maupassant, and he has enough money to have an easy time of it. (Mourier-Petersen had studied medicine for some time in Copenhagen prior to 1880. He came from a family of landowners and had the considerable sum of 6000 Danish Kroner available for his planned three-year ‘Grand Tour’ to the south of Europe).”
Letter from Vincent to Theo. Arles. April 9, 1888
“…I’m still going about with the Danish painter, but he’s going home soon. He’s an intelligent boy, and fine as far as loyalty and manners go, but his painting is still very poor.(Two examples of Mourier-Petersen’s works in Arles are the painting ‘Apricot trees in blossom’, Arles, showing the same orchard as Van Gogh’s ‘Pink peach trees (‘Souvenir de Mauve’)’ [F 394 ] and ‘Girl from Arles’, for which he may have used the same model as Van Gogh in ‘La Mousmé’ [F 431])”
Letter from Vincent to Theo. Arles. May 14, 1888
“…In the next few days you’ll see the Danish painter who was here arrive in Paris, I don’t know how to write his name (Moriés?). He’s going to see the Salon and will then go back to his country and come back to the south, in a year perhaps. His last three studies were better and more colourful than what he was doing before. I don’t know what he’ll do later. But he has a good character and I’m sorry he’s going away. …I’ve talked to him a lot about the Impressionists, all of whom he knew by name or from having seen their paintings, and he’s very interested in the subject. He has a letter of introduction to Russell. He regained his health here and is now very well — he’s good for two years — but after that it would do him good to come back for this same reason of health.”
Letter from Vincent to Theo. May 26, 1888
“…Have you met the Dane Mourier-Petersen — he’ll have brought you another two drawings as well.He studied to be a doctor, but I suppose he was discouraged in that by the student life, discouraged by both his pals and his professors. He never said anything to me about it, though, except that he once declared: ‘but doctors kill people’.
When he came here he was suffering from a nervous condition that came from the strain of the examinations. How long has he been doing painting — I don’t know — he’s certainly made little progress as a painter. (Van Gogh’s assumption was wrong; Mourier-Petersen had given up his medical studies in 1880 and had been working as an artist ever since). but he’s good as a pal and he looks at people and often judges them very accurately.
Could there be a possible arrangement whereby he could come to live with you? …The Dane is from a good family, he has order and regularity in his means of support, and as a man he makes me think of those characters Pierre Loti creates. For all that he’s phlegmatic, he has a good heart.”
Letter from Vincent to Theo. June 12, 1888
“…I was pleased to learn that Mourier has come to lodge with you. (Mourier-Petersen arrived at Theo’s apartment in rue Lepic on 6 June 1888, and stayed with him until about 15 August 1888)”
Letter from Vincent to Theo. Arles. June 15 – 16, 1888
“… I liked Mourier well enough because, with his spectacles, he went naїvely and benignly about this wicked world, and because I presumed he had a heart that was purer than many a heart, and even with more of a leaning towards rectitude than many of the cleverest people have. And as I knew he hadn’t been painting for very long it made not a bit of difference to me that his work was the very height of inanity. And I saw him every day for months. All right. So what can be the reason for his losing his qualities?
This is how I imagine the case to be. Bear in mind that he came to the south to get over a nervous disorder caused by a whole lot of problems he’s had, and as a result of which he changed career.He was perfectly well here, he was very calm, &c. But the shock of Paris was too great, the change too sudden, he didn’t find the Paris of his dreams, and there he is, worried and perhaps disagreeable, and in any case doing silly things.
He’ll soon have sown his wild oats, I hope. While waiting, let him do whatever he likes without attaching any importance to it. He’s placing huge hopes in Russell (I believe), he’s looking for an adviser and a teacher — now — no need to tell you that Russell will perhaps not be everything he needs, but I believe that Russell will see that he’s someone who doesn’t know the circles of people with whom he’s dealing, and I think that Russell will take him seriously and will try to be good for him. I believe that Russell is making a name for himself among those who have an instinctive fear of Paris. It’s hard to explain what I mean by that.”
“Where the impasto of Van Gogh’s flowers makes their blossoming palpable, felt as vigorous explosions of the spring, Mourier-Peterson’s paint is thinner and his style gentler, with his trees elongated, stretching upwards in their frailty in contrast to Van Gogh’s relatively squat and sturdy depictions. A golden-yellow hue stretches across the extent of the fence in the middle of Mourier-Peterson’s canvas; his fence lilts forwards; the ground comes in tones of pink-orange with silver-blue highlights; and the sky distends in heavy purple-blue.”